Welcome to my blog dedicated to my Elizabeth House Shop Talk Series. I have worn many hats in my life and continue to do so. One hat I wore for several years was as a shop owner. I had zero experience, zero dollars, and zero connections. The Internet and blogging were practically non-existent back then and shop owners back then were not willing to share. Books were too complicated because my questions were so basic (and almost too embarrassing to ask!). I had no clue what I was getting into and to be honest, I had some resentment that I had learned so much the hard way because I truly had no one to turn to. I swore to myself that if I ever learned a darn thing, I would pass it on to others because there is no such thing as a stupid question. I am willing to share my experiences as a store owner, consultant, buyer, vendor, stylist, and designer. Basically, we all want the same thing - to create, to learn, and be happy doing it. I hope this blog brings you a little joy in knowing that you are not alone and that there is at least one person out there that has "been there done that" who didn't have a clue and has lived to write about it. I love to talk shop and the biz of business continues to intrigue me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We only need a piece of the pie - not the whole thing

Welcome to another Elizabeth House Shop Talk series. This series is for the new shop owner or the shop owner-wanna-be's.

I receive quite a few emails about running a shop and lately I have had a few about what to buy, what the "competition" buys and how to make sure they (the competition) doesn't steal their customers.

I am always surprised when a customer comes in my store and "announces" the new store that is opening down the street from me and she asks me if I am "worried about the competition"?

What? Worried? The only thing I am worried about is that the new owners will change their minds and decide NOT to open down the street from me! If a cute, unique store is opening near mine, I am thrilled! We little boutiques need each other. No matter how wonderful your store is, or how creative it is, very few people will venture to it if there are no other little stores for them to visit as well. It is just our culture.

Have you ever met the store owner who has the attitude that in order for her to succeed, someone must fail? I have. These owners feel that their store must be the only store around that is cute, unique, or special. They actually seem happy when a small boutique closes down. They get joy at others' failures. I find that very sad and also sad that these store owners are so insecure with their own abilities and vision that they actually wish failure upon others. But these people are out there.

I am a very big believer that there is more than enough to go around for everyone. I couldn't service and sell to everyone even if I wanted to! There isn't enough time, resources, or energy to do all that work. I don't need the whole friggin pie, only a slice - a small slice. As I try to find time to work on my on-line store, consider this: Right now, I have a little over 4000 people reading this blog. If only 5% of my readers decide to order three bars of French soap from my on-line store (when it is up and running), that would be 80 orders consisting of 240 soaps! I will have to wrap, package, ship, and follow up on 80 orders! While that is a great sale - it is also a big responsibility. So why in the world would I even try to get the whole pie, when a piece is plenty???

So that brings me to part two of this posting - what and how do you buy for your store. Well, there is the market - which will be a whole posting on its own. But for now, the basics is this: It is smart to check out what other stores are selling. Not so you can run out and sell the same stuff, but so you don't sell the same stuff. I can't tell you how many times I run across a little store near mine that is carrying a wonderful product that would have looked great in my store. Do I go out and buy it for my store. NO! I just usually berate myself for not being "first" in discovering a great item and I pass on it.

I want a store, and have come to be known as a store, that carries things that you can't find anywhere else. Why, why, why in the world does a shop owner walk into my store, see what I am selling, then goes on the hunt to find it, buys it, and puts it in her store? It happens. It has happened recently, in fact. That is lazy, very uncreative, insecurity on the owner's part and just plain poor business sense. As soon as I find out that a store is carrying something of mine and if the store is located near me, I drop that product immediately. Believe me, there are plenty of products out there to buy and I am so small, I do not need to fill my store with stuff that others are carrying.

But, and I mean but....if you are out doing your research (as you should) to see what others are selling, their price points, and how an items moves, and you come across a wonderful item that you know would be just great in your store....then you may consider carrying it if and only if, the store in which you found the item in not in anyway competition as in location. My personal rule is that if a store is more than 30 minutes driving time away from me, then if they happen to carry something I carry, or I find something of theirs that would do well, then I will consider it.

One last thought on your researching other stores. All because an item, that you love, is in a store not near you, does not always mean it is a good idea to order it for your store. You need to ask yourself (or the store owner, if she is open and friendly): how long has this product been on the floor? Did she just get a shipment in? Or has it been sitting there for months and not moving? If not moving, why? Customers don't get it? Prices to high? Not displayed to its full advantage? All of these notes need to be taken into consideration.

And finally, if you come across an item in another store that you think you might want to carry...please have the professionalism to BUY the item and then go home and do your research. Don't take photos of the product, nor whip out a pad and pen and write down info from the label. I have heard stories of a store owner who took tons of photos of products from stores in her area, and just filled her store with like products. Just help the store owner with a purchase and then do your own research. Many times, the product may not be doable only because the minimum order is too high or they have no other product in their line that interest you and the company won't split an order. Many reasons to consider before ordering.

I promise to address going to market in another posting, but for now, remember this: There are plenty of customers and products to go around for everyone. We don't need the whole pie and we don't need others to fail to ensure our success. Frankly, as corny as it may sound, I am really very honored to just be on the pie plate, taking a little slice, along side all of you who own stores and are working their butts off too. What a wonderful little piece of the retail world to be a part of!

Now, go have some pie - and take a slice to your neighbor.

from my house to your house,


Secret Leaves said...

Well, Elizabeth, this is just a lovely, lovely post--and so true! As we have discussed many times, the whole 'someone else has to fail for me to succeed' mindset just baffles me. And I am here to tell everyone that Elizabeth is not just talking the talk--she lives what she says about helping others and sharing the love. : )


pedalpower said...

Amen. Our little town is slowly overcoming that stingy "I must be the only store" mentality. Thank goodness too, because I think multiple charming, unique shops is the only way to make our downtown viable again.

The Blissful Home said...

THANK YOU, Elizabeth, for saying what needs to be said. I recently struck up a nice professional friendship with a shop owner in my town whose shop is just a few miles from mine. As we walked through each other's stores enjoying the sights, sounds, and scents, we were BOTH thrilled to find that we had *not one item* the same. Developing and staying true to your own unique vision leads to having a unique shop that will be memorable for customers because it is like none other they have ever been in. This should be everybody's goal, in my opinion.

Thanks for keeping it positive!


Prairie Home -sherry said...

Great info!!
You are truly gifted, and to share what you know & have experianced is wonderful!
Love your style!
Come visit sometime..

Lana said...

Dear Elizabeth ~ I have been a faithful reader of your other blog and was happy to find this one tonight!
Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.

Sue said...

Amen sister, cooperation is the key to healthy competition. When I had my most recent little shop we all strove to keep seperate lines in our stores and attract new like minded businesses to our area. I will admit though to pulling out my little note pad when I was in an area far from home to copy down the source of an item that I thought would fit in my shop, blushes......

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sue,

I am guilty of pulling out a pad too - it is only human to jot something down on the spur of the moment...but then something clicked in me and I realized that while "borrowing a source" is not wrong at all - especially when the store is out of my market and no competition at all - why not "thank" the owner for finding the great product that I may use in my store, by buying it from her and helping her bottom line. I am glad you wrote me!


Rusty Rooster said...

I have noticed that a store very close to mine has quite a few of the same products that I am carrying, and instead of it being because one of us got the idea from the other, I think it is because of the vendor rep for those particular lines. The duplicate items all seem to be from lines that have local reps who are obviously working the area pretty hard (which of course we can't blame them for). I have started asking my vendor reps "who else have you sold this to in my area?" but I'm not sure that they are being as forthcoming with information as I would like. Maybe the solution is not to buy into these lines at all.... just stick to the products that are being marketed on a much smaller level. What do you think, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth said...

Hi Becky (rusty rooster),

Good question! yes, I had the same thing happen to me. The key, I think, is to have a relationship with the other store owners in the area. I do with the stores next to me. I had a vendor walk in and sell me an entire line and then she went right NEXT door and sold her the same line! My neighbor got to talking and we both discovered that we ordered the same line. We both cancelled our order and never ordered from her again. When talking to a vendor, before you order, just be very clear with the vendor that if the same products you are buying from her show up in a 3 or 4 block radius (or whatever your market is), that you will not order from her again. They tend to be upfront with me after I tell them that, and whatever they say, you can decide if you want to do business with them or how much you want the product, even if your neighbor down the block has it too.

Good luck - thanks for writing,

Kathleen said...

Your post is so true. There is a small community not too far from my home that has a few unique shops. This is a rather rural area so that has to be difficult to keep business going but they have been there for years. What I believe has kept them going when other shops go out after one year is the fact they support each other. I now have a nice relationship with the one shop owner she knows my old farmhouse and what I like. If she doesn't have what I'm in search of she'll offer other places to look. She's even given me old hardware that she says no one else would ever buy but she knows I will use in my home. You better believe she is the first place I go. The saying "what goes around comes around" is so true. It never pays to have ill wishes for an other person. Also, if there are several uniques shops in one area that draws more people. People have limited time and don't want to travel far...and now with gas prices they really think twice.

dahlias said...

What a lovely and positive way of approaching this issue. I have a shop in an area that is FULL of shops (Main Street in St. Charles, MO). The entire goal of my shop is to be different! When a customer steps into my shop I want the experience to be memorable...there is nothing better than to hear..."OH yeah this is the shop I was talking about!" It brings a smile to my face...and on particularly stressful days a tear to my eye. I do ask my reps and companies who else in the area carries the products...if someone does and is relatively close I really don't want to carry it.
Case in point...a new shop recently opened in the area AND a good percentage of their stock comes from a company I order from....SO I will no longer order from that company. This past weekend I had a customer come in and say...such and such is carrying that item...I said I know...I've noticed. Many many times my customers are my eyes and ears. I will hear them say oh they have this too...OR oh yeah we saw that up the street. I casually glance their way and make a mental note to visit the companies website and see if I can see who is carrying the line and then decide if I will continue to carry the item or not.

And Elizabeth...thanks for being an incredible inspiration with such a positive outlook!


FrenchGardenHouse said...

Thanks Elizabeth, this blog is just a wonderful idea!!

I have an online store, and already many gals are writing me or asking me in person where I buy everything, they want to sell it, too! While I don't really mind telling them, (it's not a secret!) I do wish they would develop their own sources, it would just be so much more interesting. And, those "other" products would give their own web or real store a unique "look", their vision. (and I could shop THERE!!)

I totally agree, there is more than enough to go around. I love the mix of old and new, and try hard to source things that are unusual and limited in quantity. The next person may love, say, paper goods, and offer those. I try really hard to be an encourager for all these gals I know....it's a big world out there, and people always look for great things to buy!

This blog is a gem of an idea, I am so thankful to find a kind, caring and NICE gal like you online to learn from/share ideas with.


Sarah said...

First, I am so glad that I found your site. Its great to hear honesty in this business. I opened my shop 6 years ago and since then in my town of 3000 one shop has taken 41 lines that I know of. It has been a awful to say the least. I wish more people would share this mentality. We can survive if we stay uniqye and work together. Tip- when I am in a shop away and find a great product I think that I can sell, I ask for the info and trade for another product I think they don't know about and that they might be able to sell. Great for you and them, then you wont feel guilty about the pen and paper pulling out. You know you hate when it happens to you!!!
Thanks again

metro home style said...

This is a great blog - thanks for starting it! There certain is no need to think you need all the pie and it too bad so many out there think it's all or nothing. One of my neighbors just loves to point out what doesn't go right for someone, or if someone seems to be having a slow day (obviously SHE had a lot of time on her hands!). It's really too bad because we can be so much more when a group of shops works together.

Thanks again for the blog; I look forward to being a regular here! Anxious to hear what you have to say about going to market as I gear up again for the NYC show, I'm always looking for new was to think about what I'm planning, buying, searching out etc.

Joy for the Journey said...

Elizabeth, I recently found your blog and have really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for sharing all your great insights - you are inspiring!
Sarah :)

Joyce @ Make Mine Pink said...

What a wonderful post Elizabeth! I own Make Mine Pink, a site for women in business to network and offer support to each other. It has always been my point of view that there is enough business for everyone. I just haven't been able to verbalize it as eloquently as you have. I plan to introduce your blog to all of my members. There's much to learn from just this one post. Bravo from one woman entrepreneur to another.

Amberly said...

I miss reading your shoptalks! Hope you will get a moment once in awhile to write a few words of advice.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE continue the shop talk series.. I love that in addition to the nuts & bolts pieces, you've included topics such as this. We truly all share in the pie, and lord knows, our customers loooove to buy! I've recently left a shop (14 vendors) because the owner is doing everything the opposite of what you recommend. I couldn't put my finger exactly on what she was doing wrong, but now I see. Thanks for all the insight and inspiration!

jpdmom said...

LOVE what you had to say, as I am the person making the products stores like yours sell! I have no idea why people have the need to copy - stay original! I just posted about this today - Competition is Good for Business! I am looking forward to reading more of your very honest posts - I write a similar blog about running a business and would love to list your blog!
Jamie Lentzner

Ruth Harsham said...

Hi Elizabeth and Amen, sister! I have a store and I cannot tell you how frustrating it gets when other shop owners call me or email me for the one and only reason of flat out asking me for my source/vendor of certain items! Honestly! Like you said, it takes hours, days, sometimes years of hunting down an item and believe me, when I finally score it, I'm not just going to flippantly dole that info out to another shopkeeper (usually, for some reason, with an attitude) in one second flat. I'm all about sharing the marketplace and in fact have said the very same words you did: 'there's enough to go around for all of us' but ladies, please! Decorum!
By the way, Elizabeth...you surely won't remember this, but I actually phoned you up one afternoon some years ago after your home above your store appeared in a mag. I was rennovating our 1891 home and so wanted to ask you a question about the tin covered countertops in your kitchen. You graciously gave me some guidance about installation and then shared your store's website address. I've been a 'devotee' since! Thanks for being out there for us all, Elizabeth and may I say, you look marvelous!! -- Ruth

Elizabeth said...

Hi Ruth,

Yes, in fact, I do remember the phone call! I remember being in the store when you called and I tried to explain how the tin was done in the kitchen. I remember you being so nice and thanking me many times for my help. Thank you so much for reading my blog and making me a part of your day - I love getting emails from my cyber friends.

Thank you so much,

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